From dental care to COVID-19 testing: how one nonprofit adapted to serve urgent community needs

By Regence
August 05, 2020
Medical Teams International conducts mobile COVID-19 testing clinics across Washington state

Medical Teams International shifts flagship program to meet growing demand for COVID-19 testing in Washington

Main photo: Medical Teams International conducts mobile COVID-19 testing clinics across the state

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, many organizations faced difficult decisions to cut or dramatically alter programming due to fewer resources. Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit Medical Teams International took immediate action to continue its mission of delivering life-saving medical care to people in crisis.

Since 1979, the organization has met the health and well-being needs of vulnerable populations, responding to the refugee crisis in Bangladesh and Uganda, and providing immediate care for injuries and diseases caused by national disasters across the globe.

In the United States, Medical Teams International also runs a Mobile Dental Program that provides free dental care to children and adults in the Pacific Northwest who have no way to pay for treatment and lack means of transportation to access care. The organization’s flagship program was made possible by initial funding from Regence BlueShield, a partner of Medical Teams International for over 20 years.

“We started getting calls from providers asking if our mobile units could be used for COVID-19 testing,” said Cindy Breilh, executive director of U.S. programs for Medical Teams International. “So, we pivoted.”

Bringing institutional knowledge for managing large-scale pandemics, like international Ebola outbreaks, the organization rapidly converted its fleet of mobile dental vans to serve a new purpose and brought on volunteer health care specialists to conduct testing.

Since March, the organization has hosted 103 COVID-19 testing clinics across the state, serving over 4,600 individuals. Increased testing helps identify and contain positive cases. Every positive case identified and contained through quarantine helps reduce the spread of the virus.

“Organizations like Medical Teams International are on the front lines of this fight,” said Alison Arella, director of corporate citizenship at Regence BlueShield. “And they ensure those most vulnerable don’t fall through the cracks.”

Medical Teams International volunteer test a patient at a Yakima Wash. clinic
Medical Teams International volunteer tests a patient at a Yakima, Wash. clinic

Mobile units expand reach of programs and access to care

Medical Teams International’s fleet of vans makes it easier to provide underserved populations with care, including those living in poverty or homelessness, people with disabilities, and other marginalized populations. These individuals are often the hardest to reach yet most in need of support, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Medical Teams has been testing since June in Yakima, Benton, and Franklin Counties, continuing our mission to reach those most in need by expanding our work to Eastern Washington,” said Breilh. “We’ve provided testing at farms, fruit-packing plants, community centers, and the Yakama Nation Reservation, responding to COVID-19 outbreaks and hot zones.”

Serving Washingtonians now and in the future

Recently, Medical Teams International virtually hosted its annual Field of Dreams event, raising awareness and funding to continue helping those at risk. Since 2002, this fundraiser has raised over $24 million to make a lasting impact on the health and lives of people in crisis around the world.

“It was incredible to see the community come out to virtually support us over the last few days,” said Jon Beighle, vice president of marketing and development at Medical Teams International. “We hope this will inspire the community – we need their support now more than ever before.”

The organization plans to continue hosting COVID-19 testing clinics as long as demand, and funding, allows. They hope to continue expanding the program to where the need is greatest, including areas across the state where COVID-19 outbreaks are affecting vulnerable populations.

Mobile COVID-19 testing in action

Watch this video to learn more about Medical Teams International’s efforts to support Washington’s communities through mobile COVID-19 testing.